SC Waters Cool, but Straggler Manatees Remain

SC Waters Cool, but Straggler Manatees Remain

A Florida manatee swims at Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge. (Photo: Tracy Colson/USFWS)

A Florida manatee swims at Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge. (Photo: Tracy Colson/USFWS)

Happy Manatee Awareness Month!

November is typically the month by which most of South Carolina’s visiting manatees have headed south for the winter – but that doesn’t mean we stop thinking about these fascinating mammals that early European colonizers mistook for mermaids.

The endangered Florida manatee, or sea cow, has an estimated population of 6,000 animals, most of which live in Florida’s warm waters. But as ocean temperatures warm each spring, some adventurous manatees make the trek north – one wayward animal was even rescued off the coast of Cape Cod this fall. An unknown number of the mammals summer in South Carolina, returning south when temperatures begin to cool.

In waters below 68 degrees Fahrenheit, manatees risk succumbing to cold stress. That’s why SCDNR and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) investigate any reports of manatees around this time of year.

The SeaWorld staff that captured Goose sit with the manatee before his transport to a Florida rehab facility. (Photo: SeaWorld)

The SeaWorld staff that captured Goose sit with the manatee before his transport to a Florida rehab facility. (Photo: SeaWorld)

A Manatee Called “Goose”

Charleston-area residents may recall what happened last year when one animal in particular failed to migrate south. Around November 2015, SCDNR and USFWS staff began monitoring a large male manatee in the Cooper River, where the animal had hunkered down at the mouth of a warm water source (a power plant outfall) instead of swimming south. As temperatures continued to drop into December, a large team assembled to rescue, rehabilitate, and return the manatee to warmer waters. “Goose” was successfully captured and later released in Florida – but this time, biologists from the Sea to Shore Alliance equipped him with a satellite transmitter to track his movement.

This past spring, after his release, Goose migrated quickly up the southeastern coast and made it to South Carolina in mid-May. He traveled extensively along the coast, but by August, he was primarily back in his old haunt – the Cooper River.

Just before Hurricane Matthew arrived in South Carolina, Goose lost his satellite transmitter, which is designed to break free in case of entanglement. USFWS and SCDNR staff were able to recover the tag, but a team has been unable to successfully relocate Goose since then.

In late summer, 2016, Goose remained in the Cooper River, traveling frequently out to Sullivan's Island. (Image: Sea to Shore Alliance)

In late summer, 2016, Goose remained in the Cooper River, traveling frequently out to Sullivan's Island. (Image: Sea to Shore Alliance)

We Need Your Help

Multiple manatees have been recently reported in the Cooper River, though Goose has not yet been confirmed among them.

That’s where boaters and anglers can step in. Help us track and monitor the manatees remaining in South Carolina by reporting any animals you may see while out on the water. We’re particularly interested in activity on the Cooper River.

“Online reports from the public have provided great insight into the behavior and preferred habitats of these summer visitors,” said SCDNR veterinarian Al Segars. “Enjoy these animals from a distance and please remember, never feed or water manatees.”

Photographs can be very helpful, Segars added, but only if they can be obtained without putting the animal(s) at risk. Boat strikes are one of the leading causes of manatee deaths in the Southeast, and it is illegal to pursue or harass this federally and state-protected species.

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